I hate to see people suffer. I hate to see animals suffer. When I hear that someone has died - family, friend or stranger - my earliest thoughts always include, "I hope the death was quick. I hope they didn't suffer." I think the same things about animals dead on the road or on my plate.
Why? Because I have empathy - too much, according to my husband. I sometimes cry at the idea of people suffering. I cry over what's dead on the side of the road. I don't like anyone or anything to be in pain. I just don't.
Being an Atheist, I don't ask questions like "Why did that young person get struck down with that horrible disease before he'd even made it to high school" or "Why did that tsunami wipe out thousands and thousands of people in slow, painful deaths all at once?" We, as humankind, do our best to prevent and cure diseases, and we've done an AMAZING job wiping out many of the causes of early death and ongoing misery for so many, many people - but our biology's mysteries are endless, and maybe, while we will always discover new preventions and cures, there will always be things out there that kill the young, and even cause their suffering before death. It's not evil - it just is. For me, the whys went away when I embraced my Atheism, leaving me in much more peace than when I was trying to believe, though still distressed at the idea of suffering.
Do I believe in evil? Yes - I believe people can do good things, like helping other people, or they can do evil things, like rape and kill people. What is the source of evil? Same as the source for good: us. Humans. We're capable of both. There is evil in the world, and it's made up of various combinations of superstitions, arrogance and ignorance - with the occasional psychological illness thrown in there, like sociopathy.
When I was a kid, I believed in Satan. I believed there was this being ready to do me and my family untold harm. I believed in hell. I believed if I died and still didn't believe in God the way I was supposed to, despite trying oh-so-hard to do so, I was going to be tortured forever. I was taught this by various adults and children around me. Two books by the same author, The Late Great Planet Earth, and Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth were frequently talked about by other kids at the Methodist church my family sometimes attended. The world was going to end soon, I thought, and I was still unsaved, because I still didn't really believe in God, so I was going to SUFFER FOREVER! I cried myself to sleep at night out of terror and anticipation of the pain. Through many tears, I prayed and begged for God to please enter my heart and take away this fear.
Until one day, the fear stopped. Almost at once. I was sitting on my bed, trying to sort out all the contradictions in the Bible and among different Christian sects and on and on and it just hit me, BOOM - there cannot be a devil. There just can't. It's completely, utterly illogical. If God was all the things everyone was assuring me he was - all-merciful, all-loving, all-caring - then there just could NOT be a hell. I just sat there on my bed, stunned at my conclusion. I kept it to myself. But wow, did I ever start getting better nights of sleep. And the more I questioned and let go of the religious ideas being pushed at me, the better I felt.
Parents who teach their kids that Satan exists are terrifying their children, not helping them. It's emotional abuse - there is just no other way to describe it. It makes me sick to my stomach to think of children, right now, terrified, as I was once upon a time, that a magical, invisible, extremely powerful being is out to get them. There is nothing - NOTHING - to be gained by telling any person, child or adult, that his or her suffering comes from Satan. What a despicable thing to tell anyone! It's crippling manipulation that is nothing short of reprehensible. It's nothing short of evil.